Both the Iowa House and Senate have approved a compromise bill regarding texting and driving on Tuesday, March 23rd. It still must be signed into law by the Governor who is expected to approve the bill. If signed into law, it will not be effective until July 1, 2010.
The new compromise bill completely bans the use of cell phones or "electronic entertainment devices" such as i-pods, for teenagers with restricted licenses, instruction permits or intermediate driver's licenses. The only exception is if the vehicle has pulled over to the side of the road and is completely stopped off of the traveled portion.
For all other individuals, the new law will only prohibit texting or emailing while driving. This includes both sending and reading incoming written communications. It will have no impact on the ability to make or receive phone calls. It specifically states: "A person shall not use a hand-held electronic communication device to write, send, or read a text message while driving a motor vehicle unless the motor vehicle is at a complete stop off the traveled portion of the roadway." There are clear exceptions for hands free devices and use of GPS systems. The bill also has a specific exception allowing drivers to receive "safety-related information including emergency, traffic, or weather alerts." Thus, new services such as Route Scouter will not be affected by this measure.
The enforcement provisions of this proposed new bill are what make one wonder why the tax payers money was spent haggling over the measure in the first place. Law enforcement is to only issue warnings for violations for the first year that the new law is in effect. It is not a moving violation but is a simply misdemeanor punishable as a scheduled fine of only $30.00. Additionally, law enforcement is specifically prohibited from stopping or detaining a person soley for a suspected violation of the texting ban. Enforcement may only be a secondary action following a stop for another traffic violation. The one area where the law will have some teeth is in those situations where it is determined that the individual was violating the texting ban and was in an accident causing serious injury or death. In those situations, the punishment increases to a potential $1,000 fine and a possible license suspension of 180 days. More importantly, a violation of the texting ban qualifies as a public offense which may lay the foundation for Involuntary Manslaughter by Public Offense charges in certain circumstances.
All in all, there was considerable public pressure to pass a texting ban in Iowa this year and it was doubtful that the Legislative session was going to end without such a bill being passed. If a texting ban was going to be passed this is probably the best the citizens of Iowa could hope for. Some may say it goes to far and some may say it does not go far enough. However, the sign of a good compromise is that neither party is completely happy. This may be such a compromise. It is not overly restrictive; it allows time for people to adapt to the ban; and it also provides a mechanism for tough enforcement in the appropriate case. Only time will tell.